With Aaron Rodgers, Jets Enter Era of Expectation

For a brief moment on Thursday, Aaron Rodgers and the Jets showed everyone what rejuvenation looks like.

After a rocky few opening series during a scrimmage on the Jets’ first day of training camp, Rodgers fired the ball to the second-year wide receiver Garrett Wilson on a quick out route. Wilson hauled in the pass, briefly stumbled, then scampered up the sideline for a healthy gain, drawing cheers from his energized teammates.

It was the sort of offensive dynamism the Jets have sorely missed for years as the team has struggled to find a long-term answer at quarterback, the game’s most important position. The addition of Brett Favre in 2008 failed to deliver a playoff appearance, and early-round draft picks after him brought mixed results.

But the arrival of Rodgers, a four-time most valuable player, brings heightened expectations this season — and an unfamiliar level of excitement around a team whose name has been synonymous with ineptitude for more than a decade.

“There’s a lot of positivity around here, which I think is a good thing,” Rodgers said after practice.

Despite the Jets’ at times uneven quarterback play, Garrett Wilson, right, had 1,103 yards receiving as a rookie in 2022.Credit…Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Following a long negotiation, the Jets agreed to acquire Rodgers in a trade with the Green Bay Packers on April 24, adding a level of spectacle that has trailed the team. The league scheduled the Jets in five prime time matchups this season, up from one appearance in 2022, including a Week 1 contest against the Buffalo Bills on “Monday Night Football.” Camera crews from “Hard Knocks,” the HBO documentary series, will follow the team throughout the season, and the Jets will headline the N.F.L.’s first Black Friday game, on Amazon.

The attention is a far cry from expectations ahead of last season. The Jets got out to a surprising 6-3 start behind a highly ranked defense before shaky quarterback play derailed newfound hopes. Zach Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick in 2021, was benched in favor of the backup quarterback Mike White, and the team went 1-7 to close the season.

By adding Rodgers, the Jets sought to expedite an organizational rebuild. The team has nurtured young talent, including the reigning offensive and defensive rookies of the year, Garrett Wilson and cornerback Sauce Gardner.

“When you have so many great players on rookie deals, it’s pretty exciting knowing you can do something, you’ve got a good window,” Rodgers said. “It’s not just a one-year thing where you can be competitive, which is fun.”

As players reported to camp on Wednesday, some spoke of reaching the Super Bowl, a lofty goal for a franchise that last made the postseason in 2010.

“Bringing a guy like him into the building just excites everyone in general because the résumé he has, the character he is, the guy that he is, that brings a spark to everybody,” said defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, who said he had already pelted Rodgers with questions about the best defensive players he had ever faced.

But even with Rodgers’s arrival, there is reason for any optimism to be qualified.

Rodgers, who turns 40 in December, is up against football’s age clock: Few quarterbacks — apart from Tom Brady — have excelled at that stage of their careers. And after winning back-to-back M.V.P. awards in 2020 and 2021, Rodgers had the worst season of his career as a full-time starter, posting his second-highest interception total and his lowest quarterback rating since 2008.

Rodgers brings more than just a Hall of Fame résumé to the Jets. He drew criticism in 2021 for denouncing the league’s Covid-19 vaccination policy after testing positive for the coronavirus. Despite claiming before the season that he had been “immunized” against the virus, Rodgers was fined for violating league Covid-19 protocols for unvaccinated players by attending a Halloween party.

The end of Rodgers’s tenure in Green Bay was also marred by his spats with coaches and team management over roster and play-calling decisions, as well as his public criticism of the Packers’ young receivers.

So far, he said, he is happy with his new team.

“There’s a lot of fun things that have come along with this time in my life, and I’m just enjoying every minute of it,” he said on Thursday.

For their part, the Jets appear to have tried to build the team in Rodgers’s image. They have Garrett Wilson, the sort of explosive young wide receiver that Rodgers had complained about missing in Green Bay. They brought in some of Rodgers’s friends and former Packers teammates, like the receivers Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard and offensive lineman Billy Turner, and they hired Nathaniel Hackett, Rodgers’s offensive coordinator from 2019 to 2021, in the same role.

Lazard, who played five seasons with Rodgers in Green Bay and signed with the Jets in March, thinks he can help some of the team’s younger receivers, acknowledging that “the Aaron Rodgers offense” can present a learning curve.

“When he’s on the field, the whole playbook’s open at any given time,” Lazard said of Rodgers. “Even during Day 1 of practice, he might pull a signal, do something we’ve never talked about.”

It certainly will not be what the Jets have been used to.

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